So said the text of one of my birthday cards this morning.
I suppose a sixty-fifth birthday is significant – certainly it's an excuse for splashing out a bit, throwing a party, bringing in a piano player for the evening, having valets at the door, waiters, bar staff, buffet, flowers, candles, invitations to three thousand of one's BFFs, etc. (Well, maybe I exaggerate a little, but it's my birthday. So there.)
The invitation to my party had photos of me from age six to sixty-four, all of them – well, almost all –not-quite-smiling images. Seemingly, I rarely smile for the camera and there are countless grumpy-looking photographs, detested by me, that have landed over the years in trash cans on two continents. Comments about my photographic impairment have followed me through my life and I know they are true. I rarely smile. But I love to laugh.
The image of the six-year-old me has become more significant the older I've become – the grumpiness exhibited there I now read as bewilderment at the news that I would never again live with my mother from that day forward, and perhaps that image explains why I cannot look at a camera pointed in my direction with any equanimity. Each photo op brings with it a feeling of panic – a feeling that has never lessened through all the years.
Nonetheless, those photos have marked each milestone, each distance travelled, each companionable moment, and most important of all each loving glance – and isn't a loving glance one of the most important things in the world?
There's a photo of me looking quite shyly at the man I didn't know I was to spend next thirty-plus years of my life with. Another, I'm wearing the only solid green shirt and certainly the last shirt with a visible logo I have ever worn – well, it was Halloween in Philadelphia years before we moved here. A third, perhaps better for being partially hidden, is a passport photo from my thirties and then two from two family weddings. Only one has me actually laughing and there I am mid-guffaw at a comment the Celt made as we sat at lunch overlooking the Louvre. The last... ah that last photo... that is the one that shows how shy a person can still be after all this time together and how fatuous an expression a loving look can bring to a face crumpling into maturity.
That not all photos are harbingers of disaster is a theory I'm examining very gingerly, crabwise even, and despite the fact there are many, many photos of me on the Celt's iPhone, the world has not come crashing down around me. Even here, it is quite a step for me to show you who I am – in the form of photos, that is.
And that is what birthdays such as mine today are all about – opportunities to understand where one has been and to take stock of what one actually has, and the reasons to be happy. These birthdays are thresholds, vestibules or consummations, depending on your point of view – all perhaps, depending on how you use them.
So, today, what do I have that is so valuable, so joyous? Well, I have flowers sent by a friend who besides this gift traveled four-and-a-half hours to attend my birthday party; and there are the friends who helped me celebrate the fact that I'm finally reaching maturity; the friends who stayed till two in the morning laughing, remembering, laughing, planning and laughing. I have a loving partner – he whom I call the Celt, and who has over the years been a model of patience. I also have a sterling silver water pitcher that neither of us expected to own, having gone looking for a modern, sleek pitcher but coming home instead with an Edwardian piece of nonsense that we both love and which, for today only, sits proudly next to the Directoire clock we bought as a souvenir of our life in Amsterdam, which itself stands over a small enamel peanut-shaped box holding two peanuts – the two of us living in Georgia – which was brought home one day as a surprise present for me.
There are memories, too. Memories that come to mind when I use the pottery colander bought years ago for pennies in the market at Avila in Spain, where we ate figs, melting, honeyed and fly-blown – the best we've ever tasted. And I think that's what our house has become and I hope many of your houses are – reliquaries of our lives, comfortable, timely albums holding treasured shards of experience, memory, love and laughter. There are many, many more memories.
I said above that in one sense important birthdays are vestibules, and so they are – waiting rooms for the next stage, itself only a second away, places to be passed through, hopefully holding the hand of a loved one – the one who's just come home from work early and poured us both a glass of champagne from a wonderful case of a very fine vintage that was sent to me by his sister and husband at the previous threshold.
Where to go from here? Retirement slips further away but not for negative reasons and I continue to work with some of the best students I've ever had, yet work begins to feel like a leash. A wish to travel is growing on me, as is the desire for a cabin somewhere in Vermont, Maine, or the Gaspe. The blog, my occasional diary, has taken on a life of its own but it's not quite sure where to go from here. At heart I am a lover of history, of processes and of the good things that make us what we are, and of flowers. I adore flowers, so thank you, Will for these.